“It has to be more than financial. It has to change people’s lives. Knowing that you are creating something that has an impact is going to get you up every day.”
TurF founder and co-owner, Deanne Schweitzer’s community-centric gathering spot has become integral to the culture of its Kitsilano neighborhood. The brainchild of Schweitzer, an ex-Lululemon executive, and her sister, Delaney (also from Lululemon), TurF is the realization of their dream to create a space that would serve as an access point to a better day, and maybe even a better life. Their collaborative approach to strengthening community is built on the ethos once fostered at Lululemon where Deanne and Delaney both worked in leadership positions — Deanne for fifteen years before leaving in 2015.
TurF’s appeal is its combination of an “elevated” experience along with community accessibility. Deanne will tell you that at TurF they have democratized the private club experience and melded it with the accessibility of a community center. However, unlike most private clubs and community centers, TurF’s fitness classes, bistro food, retail shop and espresso bar are best-in-class – again, a nod to the values and mission of Lululemon where the intention was to offer and inspire greatness while eschewing mediocrity. Deanne states emphatically that TurF participants shouldn’t have to compromise on anything offered inside their doors.
Sitting across from Schweitzer, her youthful energy and proud, focused demeanour leaves no doubt that she is a capable businesswoman and entrepreneur — an obvious leader. However, her strength is in her somewhat disarming humility, her anyone-can-do-what-I-do claim. This genuine belief that we are all capable of living our dreams is the type of buoying manifesto that draws her community to her — it is an invitation to rise along with her, away from mediocrity toward the pursuit of, if not greatness, at least a much better day.
In alignment with Deanne’s interests, fitness classes are a main focal point in her business – long before she established TurF, Schweitzer was an athlete. As a competitive swimmer during high school in Kamloops, she was recruited to SFU’s swim team for her undergrad where she continued a rigorous training schedule while studying Kinesiology. Over the years, she took on other athletic pursuits, including yoga with some of the most prominent teachers of the early 2000s, including Eoin Finn. Rumour has it that she also has a running schedule, and half-marathon times to rival competitive athletes half her age. Adding to this, Schweitzer still belongs to a swim club where she trains regularly with a group of like-minded friends — the same group of friends who join her on year-round ocean swims.
Deanne’s resume of athletic and business triumphs leave the impression that her path was one of constant successes and accolades. However, she has also soldiered through some challenging times and has overcome significant obstacles and her narrative is far more complex than her obvious list of accomplishments.
An important component of Deanne and her sister Delaney’s story is their First Nations heritage. They proudly embrace their T’it’q’et roots, their mother’s legacy and an integral part of their identity. TurF, which is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, means much more than just a place to gather — it is a sacred space, honouring the importance of the land it occupies. Deanne’s connection to her First Nations history dates back to her upbringing in the interior of BC where she and her sister attended the Kamloops Residential School, not forced, but as an adjunct group of students using an empty arm of the building during their own school’s construction. Even at a young age and without the language to articulate it, Deanne sensed the inequity and the haunting, disquieting sadness in the schoolyard. She and her cohort were not allowed to play with the residential students — they were kept apart and she carried the feeling that something was wrong. The gravity of her memories, as they have become contextualized over the years, is only imaginable.
Against a backdrop of cultural complexity, Deanne grew up a busy competitive athlete and university student. However, by the age of twenty-one, she was married and the mother of one, and by the age of twenty-three, she had two young children, juggling motherhood with a career in real estate. Years as a single mother followed, and she eventually blended her family with her now husband’s, becoming a stepmother to his daughter, and welcoming another daughter together. Today, she is the mother of three adult children and one teenager, ages thirty, twenty-eight, twenty-four and thirteen. Parenting, with all its joys and angst-filled moments, was as constant and all-consuming as her business life. While navigating a demanding executive role at Lululemon, she was simultaneously parenting a newborn and teenagers – sleepless nights and competing demands were a continuous theme.
While raising her family, but long before establishing TurF, Deanne fell in love with Kitsilano, Vancouver’s thriving community south of Kits Beach. It’s easy to understand her passion for the area — there’s a buzz and the sense that locals feel connected to their shop-owners, cafes, boutiques and artisans. Fit and athleisure-clad, they also appear devoted to a healthy lifestyle and the local businesses that support their pursuits.
Deanne speaks about the importance of TurF serving this neighbourhood and also recalls Lululemon’s impact on Kitsilano, and the generation of yoga and fitness enthusiasts they inspired.
“I felt like I was helping people find it easier to access a healthy lifestyle,” Schweitzer says. “It was a movement. It was unbelievable. We were elevating people’s lives and giving them an access point to a healthy lifestyle, and I loved that. That was my passion. I realized not only is my passion for living a healthy lifestyle, but it’s for spreading this passion and building a community.”
It was this passion, coupled with a desire to access everything she wanted in one location that served as the impetus for TurF’s creation in 2017. After leaving Lululemon, Deanne was still managing busy workdays and travelling extensively, spending significant amounts of time in New York on business. During this period, she recognized that she could not access everything she wanted in one location — she was going to four different spots to find what she needed, and she knew there was a gap, that these elements should be offered in one place— this realization was the genesis of TurF.
When asked how she developed the gravitas and self-belief to open her own business, Deanne mentions that she is “living in her hedgehog,” a reference to author and business guru, Jim Collins’ famous Venn diagram described in his bestseller, Good to Great. To be in one’s “hedgehog,” according to Collins, is to exist at the intersection of three overlapping areas of importance: what you are deeply passionate about; what you can be the best in the world at; and what drives your economic engine. With these three areas in mind, our ability to create something great for ourselves and the world around us is informed by a clear overarching philosophy and vision. Instead of being distracted by the constantly shifting landscape and competitors’ moves, “hedgehogs” are steadfast and rooted in their beliefs — all next steps are driven by their abiding principles.
“When, as a person, you figure that out,” says Deanne, “you’re in flow. You can vocalize it and you can articulate it easily. And then anything we do or say or express is very authentic. If you’re living outside of that, it is much more difficult and a lot of people do live outside of it. We don’t all get to live in our ‘hedgehog,’ But it should be a journey — we should get there.”
When questioned about advice she would give to others looking for their ‘hedgehog,’ Schweitzer states that it requires some reflection, as often our passions don’t overlap with what drives our economic engine. She explains that being exceptional at something and knowing you can work towards being the best in the world at it, might not suffice if it does not drive your economic engine. By way of example, she laughingly mentions that being passionate about running or crocheting might not lead to your ‘hedgehog’ due to the lack of opportunity for economic success.
Part of Schweitzer’s ‘hedgehog’ is her higher vision as to why her brand needs to be in the world.
“It has to be more than financial. It has to change people’s lives. Knowing that you are creating something that has an impact is going to get you up every day. It’s the hardest part when you’re building a company — don’t skip it! It’s really important to be constantly articulating your vision and putting it out there — then, it just becomes a language for yourself.”
Throughout her journey as an entrepreneur, Deanne credits a few key leaders for their mentorship. She specifically mentions Chip Wilson as a source of learning and inspiration, having started with him when Lululemon was a collection of mannequins and swatches of fabric in his garage. While the company was growing, she sat beside him for over five years, observing that he created immeasurable opportunities for women in leadership roles. “He was a visionary and his mind was going much faster and quicker into the future than most people we know.”
Susanne Conrad, author of Get There Now, and founder of Lightyear Leadership is another instrumental mentor who Deanne credits with inspiring her towards success. Conrad, who was once Director of Possibility at Lululemon, led by example as a strong and powerful person. “She built that in me,” says Deanne. “I have so many tools because of Susanne and that’s because of being myself and knowing it’s ok, and it’s actually great. Trying to be somebody else is not going to serve anybody.”
With her vision clearly in place and a loyal following, the future of TurF is limitless. Something Deanne has learned over the past few years, especially during the pandemic, is that TurF belongs in neighbourhoods. A brief stint downtown, initiated one-month pre-pandemic to serve those in the business core, was ultimately off-brand and was shuttered due to the almost obsolescence of office tower workers.
In the future, various versions and iterations of TurF will appear in other communities. Deanne mentions that she looks forward to identifying the elements of TurF that certain communities need. “TurF is a brand with great name recognition. It’s a cookie. It’s a class. It’s apparel.”
A large part of TurF’s appeal remains its fitness offering. Angela Hartman, Vice President and general manager of TurF is also their head trainer. After teaching a New York-based fitness method, known as “The Class” for several years, Hartman developed a uniquely West Coast “transformative sweat”— an uplifting and rigorous physical burn blended with spiritual healing. Local chiropractor and TurF trainer, Genieve Burley also incorporates the same process and philosophy, and TurF now has its own in-house “only-at-TurF” method. Classes are always full and waitlists are long, especially during the limited capacity of the pandemic.
The raw, supportive energy of the TurF fitness community seems to galvanize participants to live more passionately and freely — it’s this sense of elation that keeps TurF enthusiasts coming back. Some rush to work after a class, a shower and breakfast to-go, and others hang out for brunch or lunch and to peruse locally-sourced finds in the shop. Regardless, those exiting TurF’s doors, claim they do so feeling recharged and reconnected, both to themselves and their community.
The impact of TurF is profound — a community remedy on the heels of global lockdown. Its origins were simple as Deanne and Delaney identified certain foundational elements that were critical at the start of a great day— they didn’t think anyone should compromise on a great workout, healthy food, clean showers, and a delicious cup of coffee and that these items should all be offered in one upbeat, accessible location in the community. They built it and the community came together and is better for it. In years to come, the TurF brand will likely be familiar in more than just Kitsilano and it won’t be surprising if a business leader of tomorrow one day credits TurF with inspiring and supporting their journey.
Written by Tassan Sung, Chair of the Women’s LEAD Initiative